While worries about inflation, high gas prices, and baby formula shortages (just to name a few) continue to swirl, President Joe Biden is taking time on Wednesday to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live. What, did he run out of TikTok influencers?
Modern presidents pandering to pop culture celebrities is not a new phenomenon. Richard Nixon said, “Sock it to me,” and Barack Obama did an interview with that YouTube star who drinks cereal from a bathtub. But coming at this difficult moment—and absent more robust or serious efforts to change course—this just looks trivial and gimmicky.
I’m starting to think Biden might not appreciate how bad things are or what little time he has to turn his administration around.
To be clear, Biden’s approval ratings are below those of Donald Trump at this point in his presidency. And signs point to rough sledding ahead. In a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll, 83 percent of respondents ranked the economy (not gun violence or Jan. 6 or access to abortion) as their most important issue, with 80 percent saying inflation is “an extremely or very important factor in how they will vote.”
Meanwhile, a Republican midterm wave seems to be building that could sweep out many Democrats in November’s elections. This is all to say, Biden’s problems are very serious.
They are also, to some extent, man-made. Sure, all presidents are dealt a hand they must play, but effective presidents drive the agenda or (when things go wrong) course correct. Biden’s downward spiral began with that disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal (a choice he made). Subsequent problems, such as inflation, are a combination of factors (like supply chain problems) that are out of his control and policies (like spending) that are the product of a fundamental misreading of his mandate.
Facing these daunting challenges, how does Biden respond? By going on Jimmy Kimmel.
Could it be that he has simply checked out of the presidency? Not only is Biden not demonstrating any urgency, he’s also not providing much hope.
When it comes to fixing inflation and gas prices, there’s not much he can do, Biden said.
First, whatever happened to “The buck stops here”? Second, even if there’s nothing he can do, do Americans really want to hear it from their president? Instead of optimism, Biden is “bolstering perceptions that his crisis-submerged presidency is beleaguered,” wrote CNN’s Stephen Collinson, adding that Biden’s “frankness is offering no comfort to Americans looking for answers to these problems.”
Imagine Franklin D. Roosevelt saying, “There’s not much I can do about the depression. These cycles happen. We’re just going to have to let it run its course.” Or how about Ronald Reagan saying, “There’s not much we can do about the Soviets. We’re just going to have to learn to coexist.” Both of these statements, at the time, would have been intellectually defensible, if morally dubious. But effective presidents don’t passively accept the world as it is, and the American public won’t tolerate being told nothing can be done.
It’s worth reiterating that Biden is not some victim of circumstance. His past choices have contributed to his current plight. He knew, for example, that Sen. Joe Manchin was the linchpin of his entire legislative agenda, and yet he allowed his staff to offend him—thus scuttling “Build Back Better.” (In hindsight, Biden is probably lucky this happened. Otherwise, inflation might be even worse.)
It is fair to say that, once serious problems are allowed to fester, there is no quick or easy way to reverse them. But this problem is compounded because Biden lacks the leadership and communication skills that a better-equipped president might use to extricate his or herself from this situation (or, at least, make us feel better about the situation). Does anyone believe that Biden is capable of going on Kimmel and blowing us away with his wit?
So what can be done? If nothing else, Biden should fire Ron Klain, his chief of staff. Aside from finally holding someone accountable for this (so far) failed presidency, this would also signal (to the public, the press, and the politicians) that he is willing to take dramatic steps to right the ship.
I mean, he has to do something. It’s not like there’s a lot of time to wait for past mistakes to correct themselves.
There’s already talk of Donald Trump jumping into the 2024 fray this summer—before the midterms. Democrats seem almost resigned to going up against a man they label an existential threat using a man who everyone suspects is asleep at the wheel. But maybe a Kimmel appearance will change it all?
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.